School Improvement Innovation Summit: Day 1

This week I’m attending the School Improvement Innovation Summit in Salt Lake City, but my reflection for the day will focus more on actually getting to the summit rather than attending it.  Registration and opening reception are from 6-8pm – as I write this it is 5:00 and I’m on a plan in Denver waiting to take off and arrive in Salt Lake City.  If all goes well I’ll arrive around 7:00 and hopefully make it to the hotel in time to catch the end of the opening festivities.

So here’s what I want to blog about: my travel itself.  I left home this morning about 6:20 expecting to board a plan at 9:30 in Raleigh, fly to Baltimore and then take an 11:15 flight to Salt Lake City, arriving out here about 2:00 in time to attend a focus group meeting on the Common Core State Standards and then the opening reception for the SIIS.  When I arrived at the Raleigh airport, however, at 8:20 I was informed my flight out of Raleigh was delayed and I would miss my connection in Baltimore.  After working through it all with the SouthWest rep I was re-booked onto a flight from Raleigh to Philly, Philly to Denver, and now Denver to Salt Lake City – arriving 5 hours later than I originally intended. (did I mention my flight out of Philly was also late, but I did have time to make the connection to Denver!)

At one point during the day I tweeted, “If the people who work for SouthWest weren’t so darned happy these delays would really bug me Says a lot about having an infectious attitude.”  In the past two weeks I’ve flow to SLC twice, both times on Southwest, and both times I’ve experienced delays and issues (including delayed luggage, an un-planned for overnight in Chicago, and re-routing due to late planes).  Yet both times I’ve been very impressed about the attitudes of the employees.  I know their reputation, but I had never experienced it before.  Yet today seeing the smiling faces (which were genuine) and the caring attitudes helped put me at ease and made my difficult journey more enjoyable.

Which has caused me to reflect all day on the attitude I project to those I work with – be it students, staff, or parents (though in my new role my interactions with students and parents will be significantly less than before).  Do I communicate an “I care” attitude that helps put people at ease when they are going through a difficult situation?  And let’s be honest – most of the time students and parents – or even staff – are dealing with a school administrator they are, unfortunately, dealing with a difficult situation.

Last week one of my major goals was to create the draft of the walk-through observation template I’m working on for my district.  In creating this template I’ve modeled it on several I created over the past year for my previous school, and part of that process has been extensively researching questions to ask, criteria to look for, and even examples from other districts.  As you can probably imagine, a good portion of the questions will focus on classroom climate and management, with questions such as, “Does the teacher smile” or “The teacher demonstrates respect for the students” or “The teacher communicates a belief that every child can learn.”  These questions are important questions to ask ourselves – particularly in a business where we interact with and serve people every day.  I wish I could say that the optimism and enthusiasm I experienced today (regardless of which airport or state I was in) was something I saw day in and day out in every classroom.  But the sad fact is that it is not.  A business who’s sole purpose is to move people from one location to another – be it for work or pleasure – has a better understanding and implementation of what it means to create a positive climate and bring joy to people than many schools I have visited or worked in over the years.

Don’t get me wrong – there are plenty of teachers out there who do exhibit positive relationships with students and communicate a belief that all students can learn – but, unfortunately, at some schools those teachers are the exception rather than the norm.

But even for those places where it is the norm, even one negative attitude can affect others.  At best it drags down other staff members and causes dissention, but at the worst it affects negatively the lives of kids.  Think back to the teachers you had when you were a kid.  You can probably give the name of your best teacher – and your worst.   And chances are, the worst probably had a negative attitude towards either you, your class, or teaching in general.  They were there to get a paycheck – not invest in a life.

Today Southwest airlines invested in me – and they only had me for 14 hours (should have been less J).  Every day of the school year we need to invest in our children – whom we have for a lot longer than that (and maybe that’s part of the reason the airline employees were so successful: even though they had me for a brief moment, they wanted my experience to be a positive one because they knew I had a choice of coming back.   Maybe we should view our schools the same way.)

For the record, I did arrive in SLC to attend the very end of the opening festivities.


One thought on “School Improvement Innovation Summit: Day 1

  1. Great insight, Tom – and with that said, I believe that you will make a positive difference in your new position, as you interact with more teachers and administrators in your district and beyond. I believe you can plant some seeds of change..Glad to know you arrived safely – trust you’ll have time to take a few hikes this trip. Praying for you and your family in NC.

    Love you,

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